Viewing posts tagged build high for happiness

Build High for Happiness 6: A Field in England (2013)

Wandering in open country is naturally depressing

A Field in England is a precise antipode to High-Rise, a fact acknowledged by Ben Wheatley, who has spoken about the way in which he is inclined to make one project a reaction against the previous one. But the thing about the alchemical union of opposites is that it works largely because of the similarities. Just as “up” and “down” presuppose movement in three-dimensional space and “left” and “right” presuppose neoliberal democracy, High-Rise and A Field in England presuppose a director doing sci-fi/fantasy inflected period pieces rooted in the psychogeographies of English spaces. In some understandings of conceptual space this is how the hypercubic prison works - through the systematic construction of axes bounded by opposites that, when multiplied sufficiently, create a territory that is at once infinite and contained.

This is in essence the problem that faces Whitehead, who winds his way through a recurrent series of at best gradual enlightenments in pursuit of no obvious goal or trajectory for escape. More to the point, his problem is heavily location-dependent, in both spatial and temporal senses. Spatially he is confined to the eponymous field, a setting we’ll unpick momentarily. Temporally, however, he ...

Build High for Happiness 5: Crash (1973/1996)

a fixed spatial field entails establishing bases and calculating directions of penetration

Within the biotemporal omnipresence of the hypercube escape must be understood as an exit wound. In practice, this would manifest itself as an area towards which the natural flows towards annihilation congregate - the eddies along the surface where narrative tracks converge, scar tissue forming anticipatorily around the site of injury. Counterintuitively, then, a weak point is going to appear as the thickest part of the skin.

Crash, then - first of Ballard’s three attempts at sci-fi without futurity, the book is a famously scandalous meditation on the eroticism of the car crash. Its film adaptation, in 1996, is suspended neatly at the halfway point between the twin towers of the Ballard and Wheatley/Jump High-Rises, and circles neatly around other touchstones. It’s directed by David Cronenberg, for instance, whose 1975 film Shivers saw him independently arriving at the concept of a modernist apartment complex descending into madness, albeit because of genetically engineered parasites who drive their hosts mad with lust as opposed to because of some inherent property of modernity. Its opening sequence - a slow tracking shot through an aircraft hanger, across the sleek bodies of airplanes, fragmented ...

Build High for Happiness 4: Vers Une Architecture (1923)

new forms of labyrinths made possible by modern techniques of construction

The brutalist architecture that High-Rise does not critique has many fathers (and essentially no mothers), but its Anthony Royal figure is no doubt Le Corbusier, the pseudonym of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, whose 1923 manifesto Vers Une Architecture (first published in English as Towards a New Architecture, but these days called simply Toward an Architecture) laid out the principles of a new, sleek modernist style, and whose Unité d'Habitation design, used as the blueprint for several 1950s housing projects, defined the specifically brutalist style with its use of rough (or, in French, brut) concrete.

As an architect, Le Corbusier is a giant. Whatever crimes may be laid at the feet of the movement he spawned (and there are many), his actual buildings were iconoclastic and compelling, and remain striking to this day. But it is in many ways as a polemicist that he really shines. Modernism produced no shortage of manifestos, but any list of the great ones that excludes Vers Une Architecture is simply off its head. It is a work of masterful provocation, full of taunting and grandiose slogans. The most famous of these, and thus, given the ...

Build High for Happiness 3: Paradise Towers (1987)

outrage at the fact that anyone’s life can be so pathetically limited

Going into directing High-Rise, which would see him working with the highest budget of his career, Ben Wheatley directed a pair of episodes of Doctor Who on the logic that working fast and on the tight budget of television would be, as he put it, “like a boot camp” that would leave him “fighting fit to go into High-Rise.” But the choice of Doctor Who was fitting in another regard, in that one of the closest existing things to an adaptation of High-Rise prior to the Wheatley-Jump film was the 1987 Doctor Who serial Paradise Towers.

Like Wheatley’s two episodes, which served as the first two stories for Peter Capaldi’s incarnation of Doctor Who and as the first two stories for newly installed executive producer Brian Minchin, Paradise Towers was one of the opening stories for both Sylvester McCoy’s iteration of the character and script editor (at the time essentially one of two people filling the role now filled by the executive producers) Andrew Cartmel. And indeed, Wheatley watched Paradise Towers in preparation for High-Rise, although his conclusion was that it “more like an amalgam of A ...

Build High for Happiness 2: High Rise (1975)

ecological analysis of the absolute or relative character of fissures

As the precise center of the hypercube, Ballard’s novel is even more tightly bound into 1975 than the Wheatley-Jump film. Lacking the externalizing vantage point of futurity, Ballard cannot look at what the brutalist tower blocks became, and is forced instead to extrapolate out from what they are. Which is, of course, Ballard’s basic job description. He’s a science fiction writer by trade. His first four novels imagined apocalyptic scenarios, starting with The Wind From Nowhere, in which the world is destroyed by constant hurricane-force winds, and subsequently The Drowned World, The Burning World, and The Crystal World, which feature flood, drought, and weird crystalline growths appearing on everything. But starting with his alarmingly experimental 1970 novel The Atrocity Exhibition, a series of reveries in which human bodies, mediated culture, and material carnage of the 1960s blend together into one of the most unsettling psychic landscapes of the 1970s (no mean feat given the decade), his career took a different track.

This resulted in a series of three books of which High-Rise was the culmination. These novels were still science fiction, but of an unusual sort in which there are ...

Build High For Happiness 1: High Rise (2015)

a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences

High-Rise is an arch film, its thematic building blocks routinely presented explicitly in dialogue. In an early and particularly gleeful instance Tom Hiddleston lectures, “as you can see, the facial mask simply slips off the skull” while literally stripping the flesh off a cadaver’s skull, a statement of theme and demonstration of method all in one. This is, of course, a Ballard thing; the assimilation of his characteristically declarative style into a cinematic language for which it is not an entirely natural fit.

A second example, from when Hiddleston’s character, Robert Laing, is first meeting the High-Rise’s architect Anthony Royal (a name contrasting with the similarly symbolic Richard Wilder, the film’s primary working class character): looking at a blueprint of the building, he proclaims, “it looks like the unconscious diagram of some kind of psychic event.” It’s as Ballardian a sentiment as has ever been expressed, and indeed a more or less direct quote from the novel. As with the casual declaration of the thin line between society and barbarism, this is a statement of both theme and method - in this case a restatement of the basic and underlying premise of ...

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